Madrid: Barcelona coach Gerardo Martino said Lionel Messi had answered his critics in the best way possible as the Argentine scored his first two goals from open play in 10 league games as Barca won 4-1 at Sevilla on Sunday.
Sevilla had gone ahead early on under the torrential rain at the Sanchez Pizjuan, but Messi led his side’s revival as he firstly crossed for Alexis Sanchez to bundle home the equaliser before finishing off a fine counter-attack with a stunning half-volley just before half-time.
The four-time World Player of the Year doubled his tally for the evening with another sweet finish from Andres Iniesta’s pass 11 minutes after the break and Cesc Fabregas rounded off the scoring three minutes from time.
Messi had been questioned for his poor goalscoring form since returning from a hamstring injury at the start of the year, but Martino insisted it was only a matter of time before he returned to form in front of goal.
“I always say the same with respect to Leo. I never run the risk of going over the top with him.
“Those that do say something negative about him sometimes don’t realise what they are doing is affecting his pride and, when you do that to the best player in the world, this is what happens.”
Victory moved Barca back to the top of La Liga on goal difference over Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, with all three sides tied on 57 points.
The Catalans had started the weekend off top spot for the first time in 59 league matches following a shock 3-2 defeat at home to Valencia last weekend.
And Martino is determined not to hand the advantage to their title rivals again in the 15 league games that remain.
“To have the opportunity to recover and regain the lead just a week after losing it is reassuring.
“We start again now and we will see which of the three teams make a mistake first. We hope it won’t be us again.”
The game was also notable for Iniesta’s return to form.
The Spanish international hadn’t played 90 minutes since the 4-0 win over Elche on January 5, but was undoubtedly his side’s best performer in midfield as they recovered control after a difficult opening.
However, despite his own contribution, Iniesta was also keen to laud the difference made by Messi.
“Leo never goes missing, he is one of the few players in the world that in a few seconds or in a few metres can turn a game. He does it all the time and he did it again today,” he told Spanish TV station Canal Plus.
“It was important to win today and to return to the top of the table. We lost the leadership last week and it is good to return so quickly. The conditions weren’t the best but we managed to take the three points.
“The equality between all the teams is good for everyone. We will see what happens come the end of the season.”